Here’s a conundrum for you. Would it be possible for citizens of the strongest, wealthiest, and freest country in the world to have stress levels higher than those of the most brutally oppressive nations in existence?
The next question would be: “How could this be?” After all, America’s capitalist society has produced many benefits for its residents and the rest of the world. What could possibly have Americans so worried? There are many likely culprits, but one of the key contributing factors is the country’s media establishment, which has peddled in fear and outrage since its inception. So, is the media driving Americans insane?
Americans are Stressed and Angry
Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions Report provides a disturbing insight into the emotional state of Americans. According to the study, 55% of people indicated that they felt stressed during much of the day in 2018. Nearly half stated that they were worried and about 22% reported feeling angry. These rates are higher than all but three other countries.
To provide some context, the United States reported higher stress levels than people living in countries such as Chad, a nation rife with violence that suffers tragedy on a daily basis. “Even as their economy roared, more Americans were stressed, angry and worried last year than they have been at most points during the past decade,” wrote Julie Ray, a Gallup editor in her summary report.
While several factors are contributing to this phenomenon, one of the primary elements that stand out is the influence of the media and the current state of American politics. Indeed, other studies have revealed that these are having an overly pernicious impact on the American psyche.
What’s Causing these Emotions?
Americans have become far more politically aware since the 2016 presidential campaign. A Monmouth poll showed that 36% of Americans reported that they believed it’s “very important” to get involved in politics. This is an 11% increase over the previous year. Moreover, 37% said that they have become more involved in politics since President Trump took office.
A WebMD survey supports the findings of the Monmouth poll, showing that a little over half (51%) of respondents reported that they were motivated to volunteer for causes they consider to be important. Moreover, 59% stated that they have taken actions including signing petitions and boycotting companies and products due to political concerns. Even more revelatory was the fact that 95% of participants said they follow the news on a regular basis and 72% of these individuals believe that the media “exaggerates issues.” Nothing too shocking there, right?
About 22% of respondents indicated that they are angry with American politics, while 59% expressed dissatisfaction with the government. In February of 2017, the American Psychological Association published the results of a study revealing that two-thirds of the American public are stressed over the future of the nation. Furthermore, they identified the news cycle as a major contributor to these emotions. Dr. Steven Stosny, a therapist, referred to this issue as “headline stress disorder.”
Dr. Jana Scrivani, a clinical psychologist, provided some insight into the growing malaise among Americans. “Being tuned in to the 24 hour news cycle may fuel a lot of negative feelings like anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness,” she told NBC News. “Subjecting ourselves to an endless barrage of tragedies and trauma can foster a real sense of being out of control.”
Are We Losing Our Minds?
Given the state of the nation’s political discourse, the findings of these studies should not come as a surprise. However, what is alarming is the fact that the nature of the country’s politics and the news cycle is eliciting negative emotions more intense than those in countries whose citizens fear for their lives daily.
It is easy to see the media’s unfortunate role in this situation, and while it might be tempting to simply blame this problem on the left, intellectual honesty demands that we acknowledge the part that some conservative outlets play in this troubling trend. Since the public is now more politically aware, people are paying more attention to the goings-on in Washington, the details of which are filtered through the skewed reports of an agenda-driven press.
Now that more of us are consuming news media more often than ever, a higher number of Americans are being fed a steady mental diet of outrage, fear, and hostility wrapped in clickbait headlines designed to make us even more contemptuous of those whose political beliefs clash with our own. Many media outlets have transformed emotionally charged, but ultimately irrelevant, stories into their bread and butter, manipulating their audiences into giving them their precious clicks in exchange for a dose of anger and panic.
Otherwise unimportant stories are catapulted into the mainstream simply because the press knows Americans will tune in and boost their ratings. The Covington kids fiasco is a prime example. What should have been a local matter was morphed into an issue of national importance by a left-wing media apparatus that wanted to further their “MAGA Hat-wearing white people are the spawn of Satan” narrative.
In the end, what is accomplished? For the press, it is higher ratings and more clicks. But for the American public, it is a heightened sense of fear, hatred, and stress – a toxic brew rending the social fabric. It is no wonder that many are predicting another civil war. It would be easy to dismiss such claims as pure alarmism, but given how the Fourth Estate wields their influence, this reality is not hard to imagine. Is it possible to reverse course? Sure, but it won’t be easy. The media is in this game for two reasons: To earn a profit, and to achieve their political objectives. They have no incentive to inform rather than persuade. If the trend persists, things are sure to get uglier before they get better.
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